Appropriately enough for someone with nautical inclinations, Francis Albert Halliday was born in Greenwich in 1871. His naval career took him all around the country before he alighted in Summerstown. He met his wife, Eveline in Pembrokeshire and his two children were born there. By 1901 the family were in Sheerness in Kent. By the time of the 1911 census he was listed as a ‘Naval pensioner/Schoolkeeper’ living at the Lee School, Swan Street, in the city of London. Sometime over the next few years they ended up at ‘The Lodge’, Smallwood Road. Like so many other retired seamen, Francis Halliday responded to the need for old sea-dogs to take charge of vessels on the outbreak of war. Such boats were made up of an uneasy mixture of veterans and younger sailors and very often a recipe for disaster. As was the case with the Live Bait vessels in which another of the Summerstown182, Thomas Lindsay Kirkland perished, many of these hastily requisitioned ships were far from seaworthy. That coupled with an inexperienced crew made them floating timebombs. The Clan McNaughton was a pre-war merchant ship, which in November 1914 was converted into something she wasn’t intended to be. Her crew was mostly made up of reservists and included fifty boys straight out of training school. She was involved in patrol duties in the North Atlantic but had at least twice, before her demise been forced to return to Liverpool with problems. On the morning of 3rd February she was last in radio contact at 6am reporting terrible weather conditions. No more was heard from her. She simply disappeared off the north coast of Ireland and was never to be seen again. No trace of her was ever found nor the bodies of any of the 281 crew on board recovered. The official record simply states that Chief Petty Officer Halliday was ‘killed or died by means other than disease, accident or enemy action’. Speculation surrounds the cause of the ship’s disappearance, a few weeks later some unidentifiable wreckage was found near the spot and there was talk of a mine. However the most popular theory seems to be that the Clan McNaughton was weighed down with too many guns and the combination of that and being manned by a largely inexperienced crew sealed her fate. One sailor on board, Percy Biggs, wrote home before the ship sailed stating that the Clan McNaughton was ‘top heavy with guns and armour… the next time you will hear from me will be from Davy Jones Locker’. There is an entrance to the school in Smallwood Road that has a stone sign marked ‘Schoolkeeper’ above it. This leads to a small cottage in the grounds which may well have been Francis Halliday’s home. Smallwood School is a majestic red-brick building, almost like a great hulking vessel, it sits at the apex of the Summerstown182 whirl. With its turrets and domes, it is a grand and omnipresent vision whose beauty many people who came on the guided walk last week commented on. The school that so many of these men would have attended casts a stern Victorian eye on all around it, witness to so much change, so much destruction, so much sadness.
Put together some time in 1916, this pocket-sized booklet which Christine found amongst her Mother’s possessions is a Smallwood Road School Roll of Honour. Click on it to view the full document. It’s a list of ‘Old Smalls’ serving their Country in His Majesty’s Forces’. The first name in the list of those who had so far lost their lives is Mr F A Halliday. Five of the other twelve are also members of the Summerstown182.